There are a huge number of very important plans for Auckland’s future out for consultation at the moment, as I commented on in this previous post. However, one key thing will be to ensure they align with each other – as it’s pretty silly for one plan to be promoting something that would completely undermine what another plan is trying to achieve. Within the Auckland Plan alone I have some concern that the many roading projects proposed will undermine efforts throughout the plan to contain urban sprawl. Widening the Southern Motorway seems like a recipe for sprawl to the south, building Puhoi-Wellsford seems like a recipe for sprawl to the north – and so forth. I often think that perhaps the biggest reason we’ve struggled to properly implement the Auckland Regional Growth Strategy over the past 10 years is because much of our transport policy has promoted roading projects completely at odds with the goals of that strategy.
The one project in the Auckland Plan that I think has the potential to most undermine what the rest of the plan is trying to achieve, and certainly is at risk of undermining what the wonderfully exciting City Centre Master Plan is trying to achieve, is a duplicate road-based harbour crossing – a project I discussed in some detail here recently. The Auckland Plan notes that another harbour crossing is definitely a while way, but seems to buy the argument put forward by NZTA that a road crossing should happen before a rail crossing. What that means is a huge increase in roading capacity between Takapuna and the city centre, as shown in the map below:
What I find of most concern with this project is the potential for there to be a fundamental conflict between what it’s trying to achieve – more roading capacity into the city centre – with what the City Centre Master Plan is entirely based upon, reducing the domination of the city centre by cars, removing a lot of roadspace and making the city far more friendly to pedestrians.
As part of NZTA’s detailed study of the additional harbour crossing project, one of their specialist reports looked at the impact of the project on local roads at either end of the new crossing. One of the primary concerns even their study had was this effect of increased capacity on the city centre:
The issue is decribed in a bit more detail further on in the study:
The scenario agreed for this study (for both bridge and tunnel options) includes the following lane allocation on the existing bridge:
- One lane for walking and cycling;
- A bus lane in each direction, but with general traffic heading to the Shelly Beach off ramp sharing the southbound bus lane; and
- Five general traffic lanes in total, assumed to operate with three southbound and two northbound lanes in the weekday morning peak, with the reverse in the evening peak.
This scenario would provide three southbound lanes for general in the weekday morning peak plus additional capacity, equivalent to around half a lane, for general traffic heading to the Shelly Beach off ramp. This scenario also provides the opportunity for a significant increase in the rate of flow from Esmonde Road (and Akoranga Drive) onto the Northern Motorway, thereby increasing the rate of flow able to cross the Harbour and reaching the Auckland CBD. A range of options could be used to limit the rate of flow able to cross the Harbour, including changes in the lane allocation. However, for the purposes of this assessment it has been agreed that the effects of the additional crossing will be assumed to be restricted by some means and that this should be reflected by modelling ramp signals on the important Esmonde Road southbound on ramp.
Capacity constraints are already predicted to exist on the approaches to or on the other on ramps during the morning peak, and providing ramp signals at Esmonde Road will therefore further constrain the rate of flow able to pass across the harbour and into the Auckland CBD.
When you think about it, the fact that this project mainly provides for more capacity from Takapuna to the city centre is obvious – as that’s the only place where more lanes will be added. It’s certainly impossible to add more lanes through spaghetti junction to the south, so any additional crossing won’t actually reduce traffic pressure through that part of the motorway network (plus isn’t that what the Western Ring Route’s for?)
Shelly Beach Road and Cook Street are the two streets that experience the most significant change. The impact of the project on Cook Street traffic flows are simply massive, almost a triping of traffic compared to if the project didn’t happen – not exactly consistent with the vision of the City Centre Master Plan which is to reduce the number of cars downtown. You can see why Cook Street’s volumes increase so dramatically – as it becomes the main on and offramp for vehicles in the southern part of the CBD:
There are many situations where I am concerned about mismatches between the different plans – for example making Warkworth a growth node doesn’t really equate with other policies to reduce auto-dependency (the only point of it seems to be to help justify the holiday highway). With there being so many plans, and the plans being so comprehensive, it’s somewhat inevitable that we will see contradictions – but their existence is something that I think exemplifies why previous large-scale plans in Auckland haven’t quite delivered their promises.
It will be interesting to see what changes end up being made to these draft plans as a result of submissions. One would hope that many of the contradictions within the plans and between the plans can be highlighted and hopefully resolved. But then one has to have faith that the politicians (who will be making final decisions on what changes are made to the Auckland Plan, City Centre Master Plan etc.) want to resolve the differences, rather than being the cause of these contradictions in the first place.